The year was 1946. One year previous, the most devastating war in human history reached its bloody conclusion. A good portion of the world lay in ruins, with millions dead and millions more displaced. While the embers of the previous war had not yet died out, the fires of a new one were growing–what we know today as the Cold War between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The former allies were not shy about looting the corpse of the Nazi Empire for whatever scientific knowledge they could get their hands on. Both sides shuttled Nazi scientists and weaponry back home to aid their own research programs. While the United States was the only country at the time with nuclear weapons, fears that the USSR would not be far behind were rampant. The scramble to secure rocket and other technology, stoked by fears of Soviet military power, laid the underpinnings of the arms race that would characterize the next fifty years of world history.
It was against the backdrop of war and the threat of war that reports of mysterious objects began coming out of Sweden, and later other Scandinavian countries. Eye witnesses reported seeing strange, missile-like objects in the sky. The objects zipped through the sky at incredible speeds, completely silent. They appeared to lack wings or any discernible aerodynamic features. A few reports described cigar-shaped objects moving at lower speeds, accompanied by a low rumbling sound. Most of the objects flew horizontally, and they followed the large features of the ground below them.
No one in the Swedish government could figure out what the things were. Many sightings were attributed to meteors, but not all could be explained away. All told, between May and December of 1946, there were 2000 sightings of strange lights in the Scandinavian sky, some of them accompanied by radar signatures. One of the first assumptions officials made was that these strange objects were the test firings of rockets, possibly from the Soviet Union. That brought the US and the British into the mix, but the western Allies couldn’t turn up much themselves.
The rocket test hypothesis was pretty reasonable, given the time period. The Soviets did occupy Peenemunde, which was a secret German test site where V1 and V2 rockets were developed and tested. However, later research in the Soviet archives, presumably after the fall of the USSR in 1989, showed that the captured German equipment was moved to Poland, and the Soviets never tested rockets at Peenemunde. Plus, the ghost rockets exhibited behavior that wasn’t feasible given the state of rocket technology in 1946. There was nothing at the time that could fly without apparent aerodynamic features like fins, nor was there anything that could follow ground features like the ghost rockets. Many of the objects sighted looked and acted like modern cruise missiles, but no one had that kind of technology at the time Also, some objects were seen to perform hairpin turns and maneuver in formation, something even modern cruise missiles can’t do.
Several of the objects were said to crash, lending credence to the idea that the sightings were of a top secret missile test program. After all, failures of some sort are expected with any new technology. However, investigations of crash sites turned up little more than craters and some bent vegetation.
So what were the ghost rockets? Nobody really knows for sure. They are quite literally UFOs–unidentified flying objects. Be they the results of top secret missile testing, mis-identification, or something of a less Earthly variety, we aren’t going to know anytime soon.